Aug 20, 2014

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Wizzy Gizmo

As Christians, our family places a lot of importance on knowing the Bible. Not just the cute little Sunday School stories, and not even just memorizing Scripture, but knowing facts and details about the Bible, like who wrote the book of Philippians and when. We also want them to dig deeper and understand what is the purpose of each book and what is God trying to tell us? The thing is, however, these kinds of things can be difficult to teach in an way that engages kids and makes them want to learn.

Enter Wizzy Gizmo's Fast Track Bible Pack: New Testament!

This pack contains 27 cards. One for each book of the New Testament. They are large cards, the size of a small paperback book, and they are made of sturdy cardstock. They need to be big because they are packed with information. The suggested age range is from 2 years of age on up! I know it was simple enough that my seven year old could handle it and I, at my undisclosed age of "on up" learned some new things!

The front of each card contains an overview of the book. It tells you who wrote it and why, who they wrote it to and the theme of it in two or three well-written paragraphs. There are also little boxes on the side that tell you how many chapters are in the book, the author, and the date it was written. On the bottom is a key verse from that book.

The back of the card is divided into five color-coded sections. First is the outline of the book, next is a list of the key chapters, then a list of key passages, then key doctrines, and finally, key people in the book, with a short description so you know who they are and why they are important. Along the top the theme is written in bold letters and then a sentence of explanation.

These cards were easy to use. We have a "morning time" "circle time" "morning meeting"... whatever you want to call it and I just dropped these cards into that time. First, I read the front of the card aloud to the kids. This took me only a minute or two. Really easy to add into our day. I read it every day for a week (we school four days so it was, I thought, the right amount of time for my elementary aged kids). Each time I read it, I had them repeat the key verse after me. The third and fourth days, I started asking questions.

"How many chapters does First Corinthians have?"

"When was the book of John written?"

"Who wrote the book of Colossians?"

Again, this only took a few minutes of our day but they grasped and retained the information quickly. The next week, I moved to the back of the card. I started the day by asking questions about the front of the card and then I started reading the back. I devoted a day to each section, squishing whichever happened to be the two shortest sections into one day. We also repeated the theme and the verse (from the front) every day.

After two weeks, or eight days, even my seven year old remembered an amazing amount of information about each book!

Once we finished several cards, I added a review game to our time. I would call out a time period, or an author or a theme or a key person etc. and the kids would have to tell me which book they belonged to. The fun part, of course, is that many of the people and time periods would fit more than one book, so there are lots of opportunities for a correct answer and they were able to keep me on my toes!

I had Kaytie and Nate write a summary of the front of the card in their own words. Then we could use those summaries in a "mix and match" game where they would race each other to match their summaries to the correct card.

The little kids practiced putting the cards in order which helps them find books in their Bibles.

We have had a lot of fun with these cards and I'm sure as we go along we will find more fun ways to use them!

I loved using these cards because they provided me with the myriad of facts of the book that I wanted my kids to know all in one place. I didn't have to hunt anything down. The sturdy quality means I don't mind handing them over to my kids to quiz each other or just to peruse for fun. The color coding on the back makes it really easy to just focus on one part at at time.

The only con I have for these cards is that I wish they were laminated so that I didn't have to worry about them getting wet, since we use them in our Morning Time which we do at the table during breakfast. Well, no, actually, I have two cons... the other is that they don't have a pack for the Old Testament as well! Because we would LOVE to have a set!!!

I don't have any pictures to share with you because, since we use these cards at breakfast, the kids are still in their pajamas and they objected strongly to me putting those pictures on the blog, so, sorry, but you will just have to use your imagination on this one!

Fast Track Bible Pack: New Testament is only $14.99. I don't generally comment on price, because it is so relative to each family's situation, but I honestly think that these cards are worth every penny of $14.99!

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Aug 11, 2014

Where We Learn

Our school room is not fancy and it's not beautiful. It's not a large, airy, sun-drenched room. We don't even do school in our school room! It's too small and too dark for us to work in. So we mostly just store our supplies in there. But, don't think we aren't grateful. I remember well the days when our school stuff was in the main living area of our apartment, all up in my face every day. So never underestimate the delight of having a place for everything when that place is safely out of sight.

With that out of the way, here are our learning spaces. We'll start here, on your left as you step through the door. These books are for the kids' science explorations. These are the ones we own. Oh, and a history book. I am displaying these books in the hope that the kids will browse through them. At least the history book. The science ones will be assigned at one point or another whether they browse or not. This book display area is new and is a test. If it doesn't work, I'll do something else with this space.

Inside the cabinet is all the science "stuff". Magnets, Snap Circuit set, dinosaur games that we will use this year, sensory tubs, and a random collection of items that they are free to use to explore the world or to set up an experiment. When we have science kits, we keep them here.

Next is the art cabinet. On top we have crayons, markers, paintbrushes, rulers, pencils, pens, scissors, glue bottles... all in handy little cups or boxes that they can pick up and carry to the table when they want to use them.

In the top drawer we have stamps and ink pads, pencil sharpeners, erasers, glue sticks, sidewalk chalk, and a stash of foam pieces and pipe cleaners.

The second drawer is a bunch of random scraps... puff balls, stickers of all types, pieces of felt and foam, popsicle sticks, googly eyes... Kaytie has a much bigger collection of art/craft supplies in her room, but this is for everyone.

The bottom drawer holds painting supplies and (some) of our bubble toys. I don't know who took the rest of them nor when they plan to bring them back... possibly the same person who threw random scraps of paper in the paint bucket after I cleaned it out for pictures, {{sigh}}. Again, everything in these drawers is easily portable.

Next, comes our big white supply cabinet with the dinosaur skeleton on top. :)

Inside this cabinet I keep all of the manipulatives and cards that we might (or might not) use during the school year. I have everything from sign language flashcards to a Lite Bright to All About Spelling cards to little animals for Geography work.

In the bottom of the cabinet, I have a tub of P.E. supplies. We don't really worry about P.E. much these days. They have soccer in the spring and fall, and a trampoline and a lot of nearby parks to fill in the gaps, but sometimes, we just feel the need for games at home. I have jump-ropes, balls, ping pong paddles, etc. I even have our old alphabet exercise cards in here!

Down here, I also have puzzles, math manipulatives that we aren't currently interested in, some odds and ends, and files of paper games that I really need to sort through.

Next in the room is a wall of posters and our map that I actually kinda hate. I really want to get one that shows the countries. On the floor are Daniel and Abbie's book baskets. The blue one holds easy books for when they read alone, which they will do every day. And the green basket is harder books that they will read aloud to me, which they will also do every day. The black box holds our Math U See blocks.

Next is our math cabinet. On top is the cash register, Kaytie and Nate's Math U See fraction cards, and Newton. The yellow box holds all of Newton's innards. And also his brain. 

Inside the math cabinet are all the math "toys" that they are allowed to use whenever they like. The fraction stuff is new because Kaytie and Nate are starting fractions this year. Yea!

Then we have our globe (which often travels to the table), their science books that are library books (I don't like mixing our books with library books, it makes me twitchy), the Flip Flop Spanish flashcards that we haven't learned yet, math fact flashcards, and Logic of English flashcards. The drawers hold tiny supplies like paper clips, thumb tacks, sand timers, dry erase crayons, and much more. The white notebook is for Nate's STEM badge that he is working on for Cub Scouts. 

Now we come to the bookshelves. The top long bookshelf holds the kids' art creations (mostly Kaytie's) a broken scale that I'm holding out hope my husband can fix, and our collection of flags. Also a bear. The bottom long shelf holds Kaytie and Nate's book list of assigned fiction for next year. The short shelves on the right hold curriculum that we won't be using this year. The bottom shelf has history books for the year and all of our school-related DVDs and CDs.

On the built-in desk is a map of the USA. It's free-floating so that we can take it to the table if needed. It also has a world map on the back. There is also a pocket chart, a scale that works, my cutting tools, and two sets of drawers and a basket that hold my supplies. Stuff like tape, index cards, super glue... basically anything the kids are absolutely not supposed to touch. And finally we have teacher guides that I will need but not on a daily basis.

Underneath the built in desk we have the kids' boxes. These will eventually contain everything they need each day: pencil boxes, books, notebooks, and worksheets. They can either carry the entire box to the table to just pull out what they need. But they usually prefer to just take the box. Behind their boxes is a telescope and microscope set. Next is a file box of paper: printer paper, notebook paper, construction paper, photo paper, etc. Then a little basket of clipboards and small dry erase boards. The pink basket has file folder games for Daniel and Abbie, although they rarely use them anymore. 

The blue backpack is our Nature Study bag. The stack of books are history books for the school year 2015/2016 that really should be in the garage, but haven't made it there yet. The CD player is here because we rarely use it, we usually just pop the CDs into my laptop. The books are the start of our "reference library" this shelf has Bibles, Bible story books and science books.

This is the rest of our reference books. These are poetry collections, geography books, atlases, dictionaries, a thesaurus, and some "how to draw" books. On top are puzzle books that Abbie hasn't quite out-grown and a book about knot tying for our Scouts.

Finally, we have the art cards we studied last year, a magnetic calendar, and a poster of the ecological system of the prairie.

Between the school room and the rest of the house is our awesome laundry room. I use it for storage. This shelf contains: holiday stuff in the box on top; extra school supplies; playdough toys; beads and strings; the kids' piano music collection; cookie cutters that the kids use for playdough; my laminator; and some empty boxes and containers. You can also see our needs-to-be-emptied-trash can.

On the other side of the laundry room is a long counter with a sink. I love that sink! The kids use it for "grubby" work, pet care, science experiments, bathing baby dolls, and washing their hands when the kitchen sink is busy. And probably a lot of other things that I'd just as soon not know about.

In the far corner is our "nature table". The bottle is a vase for flowers. 

The tray holds old seashells, nuts, and just whatever the kids find that they think is cool... rocks, feathers, a funny little fuzzy ball that we think is a seed...

On the other end of the counter is the collection of books we use every day. The sewing machine lives here and on top of it is our Creche Conference basket. The big basket is full of the Teacher Guides I use daily. The blue basket holds the kids' Bibles for Creche Conference. You can also see our Math U See DVDs, a three hole punch, and a pencil sharpener. I adore this pencil sharpener! It works every day and we've had it over a year and the kids haven't torn it up. They can use it, too, so I am no longer responsible for sharpening pencils. It's amazing.

So now we come to where we actually "do" school! The dining room table. The majority of our work is done here because there is plenty of room for all four kids to spread out. I usually sit on one end, between Daniel and Abbie, but can move to the other end if Kaytie and Nate need me. In the foreground of the picture, you can see the bar: there are stools on the dining room side, so a kid can sit here and work if needed. And there on the right you can just see our newest pets: the goldfish Lox and Keys. 

This little corner is new. I finally got tired of juggling the white board and just hung it over here. It can be taken down if needed. And the desk we just recently bought from a fellow homeschooling family. The top lifts and there is a storage space where the boxes that hold our All About Spelling tiles perfectly fit. 

When we aren't at the table, we are working here. This is where I read aloud and where the two little kids read to me. Reading is more fun when you are snuggling, too! I can see the table from here, so I can keep an eye on the kids working there. Sometimes the big kids grab a clipboard and curl up on the couch to work. When it gets colder, the love seat will move to right about where the Dreaded Jungle Basset is lying so we can use the fireplace.

And finally, here is my desk. It doesn't usually look this tidy. I cleaned it up in your honor! 


This post is linked up to the 6th Annual Not Back to School Bloghop

Aug 8, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: August 7, 2014

This has been a crazy week. We generally lead pretty calm, laid back lives, but this week has been nuts. We've had VBS every morning. And I'm teaching, so I've had lessons to prepare. Throw in getting ready for school, a lot of blogging commitments, swimming (because the kids would mutiny if we didn't swim several times a week), a couple other deadlines and the regular housework, keeping people safe and fed, etc. and it has made for a busy, busy week.

Swimming headlines: Daniel is happy and comfortable in the deep end now. I've been testing him to see how strong a swimmer he is, and when I felt he was ready, I encouraged him to jump off the diving board with me loitering nearby "just in case". This was how I got Kaytie and Nate out of the shallow end when they were perfectly capable of surviving in the deep end. And it worked once again. After a few jumps and swimming straight to the side, he started just jumping off the side and trying to touch the bottom. And succeeding. I eventually went back to Abbie and he was fine with that. When we went home, he told me it was the best day he had ever, ever, EVER spent at the pool because the deep end was so much fun.

Abbie, on the other hand. Refuses to move on to the next step. I even tried to bribe her with chocolate and she flat out said, "No." Maybe next year.

Things just got a little more hectic around here. First, I agreed to be Children's Education Director at our church. Which will require me to teach Children's Church and to administrate all the other classes and activities. Second, I will be babysitting a cute little eight month old boy. His mommy is a school teacher, so we will have him all day every day. There are a lot of pluses to this arrangement: the kids will get practical, hands-on experience in baby care; we get to have a baby around to love on but still get our evenings and weekends free (ie: I still get to sleep all night!); extra money; we have a hard and fast getting up time; that wake up time is about an hour earlier than we usually get up so we are effectively adding another hour to our day; but it's only an hour earlier, so it is still doable; we get to play with a baby! And only one real negative: I have to get up an hour earlier than I had planned on! :) The best part, of course, is that we get to play with a baby!!!

We have one week left before school starts again. I'm a little freaked out by this because I'm not ready to go yet. I will spend the next week printing, sorting, filling up binders, shuffling books, checking off lists, poking the fabric of my plans for weak spots, making last minute tweaks, and, ok, I might as well admit it... panicking.

I'm asking for prayer for a very good friend of mine who just received some seriously bad news. She needs prayers for healing, for peace, and for comfort in a trying time.

Seven different topics is a lot. Don't you think?

The kids were given impatiens plants today. We will be keeping them in the house because if we plant them in the back yard the Dreaded Jungle Bassett will graze on them one of those days that she is pretending to be a cow. (I think our dog is weird, but it could just be normal dog behavior to pretend to be a cow and graze on grass and foliage?)  Also because impatiens are annuals and will die when it freezes but we can keep them longer if we make them houseplants.

They were also given a fish bowl. So they have big plans to pool their money, buy themselves a fish and... well, glory in the ownership of a fish because what else can one DO with a fish?

It's starting to feel a like a pet shop around here...

Aug 7, 2014

Nature Study

Last year I moved us very strongly in the direction of more Charlotte Mason methods in our homeschool. A lot of the changes took root and did very well. But, in the spirit of keeping it real here, I'm just going to admit that saying "I don't do change well" is a bit of an understatement. So there were some things I intended to do that just didn't ever get done. The biggest of these was Nature Study.

But I'm not going to give up. Since the other stuff is now an established routine in our minds, I'm going to try again with nature study. I have a bag set up and ready to go. It contains only the essentials.

  • our two favorite field guides: the Reader's Digest North American Wildlife (I had this one as a child and was thrilled to recently find a used copy) and Fun with Nature (this one is new and untried and may get ousted from the bag if it doesn't work as well as the North American Wildlife one)
  • sketch books 
  • pencils 
  • erasers
  • a bug catching kit that has various containers, insect nabbing gizmos, tweezers, magnifying glasses, our  beloved Discovery Scope a little measuring card, and such like
  • binoculars
add the camera that I have on my phone and we are all set.

We live in the city so we have to kind of hunt about for nature to study. But I have actually come up with a lot of different ideas! 

Close to us is an arboretum. This is a wonderful place that is free. It has plenty of flowers, trees, walking paths, cosy little corners that the kids like to play in, arbors, resting places in the sun, and all the little "critters" that would live in such a place. I intend to visit the arboretum every other week or so. At the bare minimum, once a month. We like to take a picnic lunch and just go hang out for a few hours.

We also have a lot of little ponds in our city. I found Angelic Scalliwags' year long study of their pond and thought, "Well, it will be different for us, but well worth a try!" I don't think there will be enough "material" in our more "sanitized" ponds for us to go every week. But I think every other week would be interesting enough. We can at least try. 

Next, we have a backyard full of plants, dirt, and lots of itty bitty critters that my kids are experts at hunting down. They play here plenty already. So those weeks that our normal Nature Study time needs to be quick and easy. I plan to take them out there with a sketch pad. Or throw a hula hoop down and have them observe and investigate everything inside the hoop. Or we can birdwatch. Or hunt ourselves down an insect to watch and make notes about. 

Finally, I want to make "nature calendars". I can't point you to the exact place, but when I was reading through Charlotte Mason's own writings, she talked about something that gave me an idea. Yes, it's vague, but I was more focused on the good idea she inspired in me than on what she was actually saying at the time. Anyway, I want to give each of the kids a blank calendar for each month. And have them write down each day something that they observed in nature. The blooming of a flower, what the weather was like, the first fall color they spot, a bird they saw, a tree they noticed. Just whatever strikes their fancy. I think it would be fun to do this several years in a row and have a fun little record of all the things they noticed!

I think these ideas will keep us busy this year as we try to be more "formal" with our Nature Study.

Aug 5, 2014

Schoolhouse Review Crew: Visual Latin

I have always felt that it's important to learn Latin. We have dabbled in the language ever since the kids were little, but now that Kaytie is in middle school, I decided it was time for her to take it seriously. She wants to be a missionary when she grows up, which will, no doubt, require her to learn a foreign language. Learning Latin now will make that easier for her. When Roman Roads Media asked us to review Visual Latin I  I was delighted.

We have actually used Visual Latin before, several years ago. My kids were much younger and although we enjoyed it, they were unable to keep up. We only had the first ten lessons, so when we finished them, I didn't buy any more. But now, Kaytie is older, and I thought she would be able to handle the pace better. And maybe even get Dwane's jokes this time!

Visual Latin is a video course taught by Latin teacher Dwane Thomas, a homeschool dad who's goal is to get the student to read Latin. The videos are excellent quality, and Dwane is an engaging teacher. The method is quite simple. Each lesson is divided into three segments. The first section addresses grammar. The second section takes that grammar and shows how it works in actual sentences. In the third section, he reads, in Latin, from a reader that he designed that starts with simple Latin and finishes (at the end of the course) with excerpts from the New Testament. First, he reads a selection, then he re-reads it slowly with the words on the screen so the student can repeat what he reads. This gives the student a chance to speak and use the language.

The other half of the program is the worksheets. There are three worksheets for each lesson. The correspond to the three video sections of the lesson. The idea is to watch a section and then do the worksheet that goes along with it. And there is a quiz for each lesson that tests all previously learned material. The worksheets and quizzes come in PDF form. There are also PDFs with the answers marked for easy grading.

A couple of other things you receive that I didn't really use much was: a 9 page Teacher's Guide that offers some tips, FAQ and schedules; and a vocabulary list of Latin words taught in the thirty lessons along with their definition, dictionary usage, gender, part of speech, and the lesson they were introduced.

Since it was summer, and we are technically out of school, we only worked on Latin three days a week. When she starts back to school, she will do Latin daily. But for the purpose of this review, this is how we used Visual Latin.

On Monday, Kaytie watched the first video of the lesson. Then she filled out the worksheet. This worksheet was always a bit of info and then an exercise. For example, in Lesson Four, she read half a page about singular and plural nouns then she sorted a list of nouns into the correct "box" depending on whether they were singular or plural.

On Wednesday, Kaytie watched the second video and filled out the worksheet. In lesson six, the worksheet consisted of sentences in Latin and required her to circle the adjective that should agree with the noun in each sentence. This sounds difficult, but she breezed right through it because it had been explained so well in the lesson.

On Thursday, she watched the third lesson and did the worksheet. This one has the selection that Dwane read in the lesson and asks the student to translate it into English. There are vocabulary boxes with the English and Latin words because your child is not responsible for any words she hasn't been taught in the lessons. She finished up the day with the quiz for that lesson.

And that is really all there is to it. I love it because it is simple, but effective. Kaytie can do the work on her own and she is really learning Latin without any anguish or drama. It almost doesn't seem "rigorous" enough, but it is effective because she is learning the language by thinking, hearing, seeing, writing, and saying the language. It employs all the different parts of her brain in an enjoyable way. She enjoys watching the videos and often shares the jokes with her siblings.

One of my favorite parts of this program is that it is completely non consumable. The videos can be reused with each child and when I need more worksheets I can just print them off.

Visual Latin is intended for 4th grade and up, and in our experience, eleven years old is the perfect age to start. Although it can be used as a high school credit.

We received a physical copy of the DVD but you can also purchase it by download.  It is on sale right now $85 for the DVD and $70 for the download. Either way, you will need to print the worksheets yourself.

You can check out the first 5 lessons for free and you can read what other Crew Members had to say by clicking on the banner below.

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